Fit For A Prince

L&J Talbott-tuxCara/Andrea here, June is always a festive month, its summer-kissed days aswirl with a host of  elegant parties for grads and dads—and of course weddings! This past weekend, I attended the nuptials of my dear friend and HWW Lauren Willig. As was befitting for an author of historical romance, it Classic-tuxwas a fairy tale affair held in the Rococo splendor of a grand old New York City venue, and given that it was an evening ceremony, the dress was Black Tie.

Lauren, of course, looked like a princess in her dress, and her new hubby James was equally dashing—though we Regency authors did tease him a little and say we were a little disappointed he wasn’t wearing breeches and boots. (He admitted that he had been thinking about a kilt, in homage to his Scottish heritage, but decided it might be too itchy for a June evening.) Our kidding aside, he looked wonderfully handsome in his tuxedo (as did all the men in the room) and it got me to thinking about the origins of this iconic item of evening wear. So I decided to do a little research . . .

Edward-VII Young-EdwardDuring the 1860s, hunting and shooting parties were becoming more and more popular with the British Upper Crust at their country estates. And with all the vigorous outdoor activities, it was no wonder that some of the guests began to chafe at all the formal requirements for dressing. The Prince of Wales—later King Edward VII—a man known for his interest in wine, women and fashion, is credited with cutting away some of the constriction. Quite literally!

He apparently put in an order with his tailor, the esteemed Savile Row firm of Henry Poole & Co, for a “tailless dinner jacket.” They stitched up a blue silk smoking jacket for him (the firm says it has the original receipt but has been a little coy on whether the date is 1860 or 1865) and he began appearing at “informal” evening gatherings in his new creation. The Prince, or “Bertie” as he was known to both friends and his countrymen, was an influential arbiter Cary-grantof masculine style and so others began to follow his lead. (He is also credited popularizing the Norfolk jacket, the Homburg hat and the wearing of tweed, as well as pressing his trousers flat instead of with the traditional knife-edge crease down the front.)

ChurchillNow, the threads get a little tangles on how the tailless jacket made its way to America. One version says that in 1886, the Prince invited a wealthy New Yorker named James Potter to visit Sandringham, his country estate in Norfolk, and when Potter asked for sartorial guidance for the occasion, Bertie advised him to have one of the new-style jackets made up at Poole & Co. Potter then supposedly wore it at the Autumn Ball which took place annually at Tuxedo1Tuxedo Park, a private residential enclave  and sporting club for the rich not far from New York City which was built by Pierre Lorillard IV, heir to the tobacco fortune.

Astaire-movie-posterThe more popular version of the story has it that the jacket was introduced at the Ball by Griswold Lorillard, Pierre’s son, who was a well-known rebel and reveler. Regardless of who wore it, there is no debate on the venue.
The garment, which naturally caused a stir on the society pages of the press, was dubbed the “Tuxedo” jacket, and the rest, as they say, is history.

James-bond PrinceesThe tuxedo has since become synonymous gentlemanly elegance. Film stars of the ‘30s, famous politicians, dapper English spies—honestly what man doesn’t look “to die for” in this classic? And that goes for modern-day British Royalty too. The current princes (fluttery sigh) look rather delicious, don’t they. I think we girls ought to send up a smile of thanks to their fashionista ancestor.

Wills-harry-kateOkay, I’m a very casual dresser and usually prefer sweatpants and T-shirt for my daily attire. But I do occasionally like getting dressed to the nines . . . and I confess that I love the sight of a man in a tux. How about you? Do you like seeing a guy all spiffed up? And does the man in your life like putting on a tux? Or does he moan and groan over having to don formal attire? And lastly, what celebrity do you think looks divine in formalwear? (My vote goes to Cary Grant . . . though I must say that Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are pretty hunky.) Do dish!